Archive for March 17th, 2011

We girls loved St Patrick’s day when we were little. We always went to the parade, green rosettes pinned to our best coats, our hair tied with green ribbons. The parade was fairly harmless in those days, mostly consisting of bands, majorettes and people waving unenthusiastically from the backs of flatbed trucks. But we never missed it. It was Dad’s job to take us along, our mother always stayed home, probably glad of a break from childcare.

In 1975 Mam was even more glad than usual to see us off for the day, as she was heavily pregnant with her fifth child. Dad had arranged to meet a long-lost American cousin of his in town, who was here ‘doing’ Ireland and the St Patrick’s festivities. The look on my mother’s face when he dragged this cousin home for tea, unannounced, was memorable.

Dad, a traditional Irish man, brought the honoured guest into the ‘good’ room to entertain her while tea was prepared by his nine-months-pregnant Mrs. But unbeknownst to them, the Mrs was already in labour. Not wanting to make a fuss in front of the guest – God forbid that we wouldn’t show her some Irish hospitality! –  Mam called me into the kitchen where I found her grimacing in pain. Womanfully making the tea between contractions, she instructed me to run to a neighbour up the road and ask her to mind us while she went to the hospital. This I did, tea was served, and it was explained to our American relative that Mam and Dad were unfortunately required to absent themselves.

Off they went to Holles Street, arriving barely ten minutes before our only brother made his appearance. Everyone said they’d have to call him Patrick, for the day that was in it. But having waited so long for a boy, they had two other names in mind.

So, Raymond Xavier Patrick Boyle it was. Catherine Crichton


There are advantages to living in a small town in East Galway; one of them is the Paddy’s Day Parade. I grew up in Dublin and quickly learnt that watching the parade on the telly was better than going to it: you weren’t jostled by tall people; you could actually see what was going on; you weren’t wet from the rain.

Where I live now, the local parade may not have fantastical floats or twirling, exotic American bands, but it’s real and sweet and half the people marching in it are your own kids, friends and/or neighbours. There is watching-room for everyone and it’s a genuinely happy and positive event in what can often be a dull market town. Last year the parade of vintage tractors was outstanding, as was the sight of a hundred kids tap dancing down the main street.

I grew out of the need to get drunk on Paddy’s Day years ago but I do love the party atmosphere that the day encourages and I always wear green clothes and a bunch of shamrock. I even forego my usual rice and pasta for a plate of spuds.

I like that Paddy’s Day endures and that mostly it hasn’t gone all glossy on us. It’s a great day to put ordinary concerns aside and just wallow in some of the positive things about being Irish, one of which is that we like a celebration and are happy to invite the whole world to the party. Nuala Ní Chonchúir


I don’t go to the St Patrick’s Day parade much these days, having slightly overdosed as a child. But this year, for the third time, we (two adults, two children) are taking part in the St Patrick’s Festival Treasure Hunt. This is a brilliant event which has you crisscrossing Dublin city on foot to various museums and historical sites. At each spot you have to answer a question and get a card stamped – once you’ve all of them completed, it’s a race back to City Hall. We were shattered last year and the year before, struggling back from maybe ten locations after a good three hours, stunned and disappointed to find we were nowhere near the winning time.

A bedraggled bit of Thomas Street, on the way up to Guinness's for the first clue.

One of the things I’ve liked about the treasure hunt is that it’s a great way for children – or someone unfamiliar with Dublin – to get a feel for the geography of the city. Though my children live in the suburbs, I want them to grow up knowing the city, feeling part of it and at  home in it. They’re going to have to walk it, and often, to get that.

Anyone else thinking of doing the treasure hunt? This year’s has a literary theme, so we can probably have a good stab at what the destinations will be. And I’m also thinking that Dublin Bikes would be a good way of getting around – though not, alas, for us, with a two-year-old who needs a seat.

Oh – but if I see your team out on Saturday, I may have to trip you up.

PS Have a look in the RTE archive footage of St Patrick’s Days past if you want to try and spot an eight-year-old you lining the streets or twirling a baton, spot the Abel Alarm floats of the eighties, or remind yourself of the 1999 parade of 25 yards in Dripsey, Cork. Antonia Hart


A rough guide to Paddy's for tourists

My enduring memory of being on the streets of central Dublin on Paddy’s Day is the curious mix of American and European tourists, and gaggles of heroin addicts sluicing along on a kaleidoscope of green & purple sick. Searching for a parade that’s long since passed them by. Down by the Four Courts, shocked and disappointed Americans in chequered trousers with neck hanging cameras bulging off their paunches, trying to take in the sight of Dublin’s invitro zombies drowning their Shamrock with a concoction of opiates and arguments. They must’ve kicked themselves [and Aer Lingus, along with the ham sandwich] for the cost of getting here. Diddly iddly melded with Carroll’s Gift Shop rebel songs blasting out of Liffey-side pubs, red-haired kids crying, sharp rain and wet dogs pissing on slashed tyres of crooked parked cars. By 5pm the junkies were gone until the Christmas shoplifting season, replaced by GAA foghorns, screaming police sirens and radio soundbytes of stabbings. You’d steer clear of the city centre for a few days afterwards, unless you were a civil servant who’d no choice but the brave the pastry lumps outside the Revenue building. I never really got it and never will. No-one I’ve ever spoken to knows the lowdown on the real St. Patrick (a Romano Briton who lived in Wales), if there were ever snakes in Ireland or why there’s so much emphasis on bottle green icing and orange fur.  It’s as odd to me as Marian devotion on gable walls in recession, but have a good one all the same! June Caldwell

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Radio producer Helen Mc Cormack offers a producer’s view of the lack of women on the air…

Veronica Walsh is absolutely correct when she points out in her Antiroom post that there is a large gender imbalance when it comes to discussion panels on current affairs programmes.

What are the reasons for this? Let’s not be so simplistic as to presume that radio producers have a bias against women and are determined not to have them on. In fact, my experience in the commercial radio sector is that the majority of people working in radio production teams are women.

I’m not here to make excuses for the lack of female voices but as someone who has worked as a radio producer at both a national and a local level, I would like to make a few points before we go screaming up and down and calling for heads to roll.

I have worked in current affairs and lifestyle programmes and have found it much easier to get women on lifestyle programmes. When I started as a researcher on Orla Barry’s morning show on Newstalk, Orla was particular about not having female only panels and would encourage us to have a good gender balance but there was never a problem getting women. Then I did the Breakfast show (in the Claire Byrne and Ger Gilroy days) before moving on to produce Tom McGurk on 4FM. With both Breakfast and McGurk, men were in the majority and we were making a concentrated effort to get women on at all. Now, producing Gareth O’Callaghan on Saturday mornings, I am finding, once again, it is incredibly easy to get women on. There have been several occasions when all the guests were female.

So why is this? I don’t have an immediate answer. Is it because current affairs programmes are using politicians, political correspondents, economists etc and within these groups themselves women are underrepresented? It’s 4pm and a political story is breaking and I have a show going to air at 5 and a worried presenter demanding to know who will cover the story. Who are my options as regards senior political correspondents? I can mentally count sixteen people, five of whom are women. So right from the start the odds are that a man will be the one to make it to air because honestly, I’m going to take the first person who agrees to do it.

Perhaps at this point, eyes are being rolled by women who are thinking “Try harder! Search out new voices, don’t just go for the old reliables!” Fair point. But I don’t have a massive staff. There’s me producing and a researcher. Two hours to fill every day with just the two of us (eventually, it was just me.) It’s the same for pretty much every commercial station out there. The Right Hook has, I think, a producer and two researchers and with two and a half hours to fill every day that’s not a lot. It takes an hour to go through all the papers / news sites etc before meeting to plan the show and divide out segments. Then you’re ringing around and people aren’t getting back to you. You have research to do, briefs to write, your presenter arrives in and may want to scrap a piece or something breaks and you’re back to the drawing board. You’re trying to get audio of the events of the day, pin down guests, get answers from Press Officers. You do find some new voices – I’m very proud to say we were the first show to put the excellent Andrea Pappin on the air! – but it takes a lot of time and effort that producers often don’t have.

To return to my point about it being easier to get women on lifestyle programmes – is this because the topics often have a female slant? It is more likely because they are conducive to family life in that they can give you a day’s notice whereas current affairs is more likely to be, at best, a few hours. Are men in general more confident in their ability to go on air and ‘wing it’ without doing copious amount of research? I have to say I generally found that they were. It’s not necessarily the right way to look at things but at the same time very often that’s what is required on a fast paced news programme. I know that on McGurk on 4, we found it far more difficult getting women to come on the panel. Not all women but we couldn’t use the same ones over and over again. I know our researcher used to literally have nightmares about not finding a woman in time for the Friday panel! Men used to get in touch with the programme regularly to offer themselves as guests or panellists (I’m excluding people who wanted to promote a product or event here) but women very rarely did so.

When Margaret Ward (one of the fabulous women who always said ‘yes’ to coming on the programme!) set up Women On Air, I was delighted to get involved because I thought it was a great way to encourage women to put themselves out there and for me as a producer to meet those women. I hope that many of those women go on air and knock socks off but for a really visible (or audible!) change to be made, women need to become more prominent throughout society. Veronica asked if current affairs programs discriminate against women. My answer to that would be no, they don’t discriminate. I really believe that the problem is deeper than that. When there is equality in boardrooms, in government, in lecture halls then there will be equality on air. But if we were to follow through on Veronica’s suggestion that “we demand some kind of gender balance be applied in the media pundit world”, I think, sadly, that current affairs producers would find it nigh on impossible to do their job.

Helen McCormack is a Freelance Journalist and Radio Producer who has worked in several radio stations including Newstalk, 4FM and Q102. She blogs at http://helenmccormacksblog.wordpress.com/ and is on Twitter: @HelenMcCormack

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I should be…

As I sit here writing this I should be putting the towels in the washing machine.  I should be sorting through the rest of the washing, putting colours on one side, whites on another and delicates somewhere else. I should be hand washing the delicates.

I should be reading the children five books six times a book, squeezing out metres and metres of Play Doh poop out of the new Play Doh poop maker, building a train track for precipitating disasters, digging the sword for the Playmobil pirate out of the dust bag in the vacuum cleaner and teaching them to play the violin and piano in unison. (The children or the pirates, either way it’s my job)

I should be vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen, washing up and washing down the floor. I should be ironing.

I should be sorting my drawers so I don’t go into the jumble every morning and come out dressed like I’ve been to a jumble sale.

I should be organising the never-ending re-registration of my car and a savings account online.

I should be budgeting for the rest of the month and sending a long email to my friend who I haven’t seen in ages.

I should be baking something wholesome for the whole family.

I should be grooming the dog whilst paying the bills over the phone (“EIGHT ONE OH ONE..SIT!…no, sorry, not you”).

I should be writing up pitches and sending them to all the contacts I can muster and following it up with cheery positive phone calls that result in arse-aching rejection.

It’s endless, what I should be doing instead of writing this.

Or should I?

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